Friday, October 31, 2008

Spotlight #6 - Emily Leach


Full Name: Emily Yukiko Leach
Age: 26
Profession: Formerly Interactive Marketing, Transitioning to Nursing
A Few of My Favorite Things: Planetariums, Rainy Weather, Audrey Hepburn, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Zombie Contingency Plans, Japanese Dramas and Naps
Power Animal: The Sqwerl

Now it's my turn to apologize for taking so long to put my piece on the blog. Or, perhaps I should congratulate myself on my excellent procrastination skillz.

I came to Nakayoshi by way of invitation from Megumi. I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the JACL. That is not to say that the JACL isn't a wonderful organization – it really is, and it holds a great role in the history of the Japanese American community. I certainly recognize its continuing contribution and importance. I'm happy to be involved in Nakayoshi because there are not many organizations available for young JA's of my demographic. Nakayoshi is also the most inclusive JA organization I have seen.

My relationship and upbringing in the Japanese American community is a little different, but more common now-a-days. I am Hapa, a Japanese American of multiracial descent, specifically Japanese, Irish, English, Argentinian and host of other ethnicities my dad occasionally (and seemingly arbitrarily) reveals. Although I am aware of the current debate over the appropriation of the word Hapa from its Native Hawaiian origins, and I don't have any other words to describe my identity and I take a little leeway in using the term because of the fluidity of language and all. If anyone objects, I can totally appreciate that. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

I was born and raised in San Francisco. On my father's side I am a 5th generation San Franciscan. My mother was born en route to the Jerome, AK camp and eventually returned to Fresno with the rest of her family. She was the lone black sheep of her generation to leave the farming town and move to the big city, where she met my dad. At the time (and to some extent, still today), the San Francisco Japanese American community was very insular and hard to penetrate, so I was raised with some distance to the community. The Japanese aspects of my upbringing consisted mostly of my mother's friends, family and food. My father also coached in the J-basketball leagues. This amalgam of experiences formed the backbone of my heritage.

I was also raised in a time when many prominent JA's scapegoated “out-marriage” as the cause of the downturn of the community, with mixed children like me embodying that collapse. That exclusive rhetoric shaped my relationship to the community, and not surprisingly by college all my Japanese American friends were also Hapa. My activism began as a first year at UC San Diego in our Hapa Club (our branch of Hapa Issues Forum, that link is from 2002 and you can see some circa 2002 photos of me on there), where I eventually became President in my second year, going on to represent UCSD at national multiracial conferences, raising awareness of multiracial issues and encouraging inclusivity in our local Asian American organizations.

My position in the multiracial activist world enabled me to work on multiple transborder and intercultural platforms. I studied human trafficking around the Pacific Rim, worked with an NPO and sex workers in Thailand and as a Hapa, paid particular close attention to the close relationships between the US Military and Amerasians. I also held the position of Student Affirmative Action Committee (SAAC) Chair at UCSD – a completely under-appreciated position and I give mad props to whoever is holding it down – meaning I represented and organized the school's small but strong coalition of underserved students.

And then, I burned out. I've been taking a break from major organizing but I still enjoy contributing to community dialogue and volunteering at events. I believe the JA community views and treats its multiracial members from an educated perspective with more respect now than when I was growing up. However, I still believe a lot of work needs to be done in order to fully embrace Japanese of mixed descent into the community, and the same could be said of getting youth involved in the community. I've found that as an adult much more of my activism has been focused on the JA community. You may also see my writings in Asianweek every now and then.

Anywho, this post has been rather serious. If you get to know me you'll find that I'm a lazy but open-minded lady. I'm slow to judge people and my ideal is to lead a happy-go-lucky lifestyle. Yoroshiku ne!